I’ve appreciated Scott Sauls’ writing ministry for some time now. He is honest about his own struggles and need for grace. His writing is firmly rooted in the amazing truths of the gospel. And he tackles flammable cultural issues with a firm winsomeness. All of that leaks into Jesus Outside the Lines. It’s always disappointing to pick up a book that starts strong, but fizzles out by the end. Jesus Outside the Lines starts strong and gains momentum like a wave. The book begins with Sauls stating, “I am tired of taking sides . . . . Are you?” (xi). And each chapter builds on the core truth that “When the grace of Jesus sinks in, we will be among the least offended and least offensive people in the world” (xiv).
Sauls starts with the hot topic—politics. He points us back to the kingdom of God as our primary citizenship, not the party on our voting card. He says, “[T]he Kingdom of Jesus advances through subversive acts of love—acts that flow from conservative and progressive values” (17). He ends with the ever-pressing topic of doubt about Christianity. These discussions form an inclusio of sorts for everything in between.
Here are some of the highlights. “Chapter Nine: Hope or Realism” demonstrates the honesty and need for grace I mentioned. He delves into the difficult topic of suffering and ends with an honest confession of his own struggle with “insomnia, anxiety, and panic attacks” (171). He reminds us “Jesus, the sympathetic realist, reminds us that everything is broken. At least it is for now” (166).
“Chapter Eight: Chastity or Sexual Freedom” highlights Sauls’ firm winsomeness. He describes handling his own friendships with someone who is gay. He describes the conversation:
Recently I told a gay Christian friend that sadly I was not able to affirm his romantic involvement with the man he calls “the love of his life.” This was incredibly painful to do, but when a friend asks a direct question one must answer truthfully. I spoke from a place of grief and sadness because I want my friend to enjoy deep companionship and intimacy.
Thankfully my friend was kind enough to listen to my reasoning as both of us held back tears. I think he is still processing what I said to him, which was this:
To affirm his union with the love of his life would mean me having to deny the love of mine. (144).
Last, “Chapter Six: Accountability or Compassion?” deals with the doctrine of judgment. Sauls handles this with pastoral care and rootedness in orthodoxy. After making a strong argument that judgment makes sense (an excellent section for new believers or skeptics), Sauls says, “We will either be welcomed into a life that’s better than we’ve ever dreamed, or we will be cast out into a life that’s worse than we’ve ever dreaded” (108). Those are hard words. And Sauls doesn’t mince them, but that is framed by the argument made prior and also the pastoral heart that seeps through the chapter.
The hard news is that if we really believe in a loving God, we are going to have to come to terms with this truth. If we believe in God we are going to have to talk to people in our lives about judgment . . . not in an impersonal, harsh way, but in the context of genuine friendship, with humility, thoughtfulness, love . . . and, when called for tears.
The good news is that anyone who fears God will never have any reason to be afraid of God. (115)
If you are a new Christian, a doubting Christian, a not-yet-Christian skeptic, or just tired of the constant barrage of cultural dirty bombs, Jesus Outside the Lines is a must read. Sauls is a refreshing glass of water in our scorched earth culture wars. He handles difficult doctrines and topics with a winsome touch that more pastors should emulate. You can also hand this book out with confidence to your non-Christian friends. He is engaging and pastoral—inoffensive and offensive in all the right ways.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
Mathew B. Sims is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and a contributor in Make, Mature, Multiply (GCD Books). He completed over forty hours of seminary work at Geneva Reformed Seminary. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship and the project manager for the Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Mathew offers freelance editing and book formatting. He is a member at Downtown Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC.